Mistakes and errors in e-books

By Joe Moore

Have you noticed that there seems to be an inordinate number of mistakes and typos in e-books? How often do you see their for there, or whether for weather? How about coming across multiple words jammed together or too many spaces between words? In her Huffington Post article and subsequent CBC Radio interview, ITW Vice President Karen Dionne discusses this ever-increasing problem and comes up with some possible answers.

First, you might assume that the problem would be most apparent in self-published books, right? After all, many self-published authors have never been traditionally published and rarely can afford the services of a professional editor to scrub their manuscripts. But according to Karen, that’s not always the case. In fact, many errors appear in mainstream fiction and the culprit just might be technology. Here’s why.

An author turns in her finished manuscript, usually in MS Word, to her editor who hands it off to a copy and/or line editor. It’s polished and sent back to the writer for another once-over. Then it goes back to the editor who sends it to the typesetter. The Word doc is imported into a specialized page layout publishing program such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. The layout program is downstream from the Word doc and there’s no reversal back upstream to the manuscript.

The typesetter works with the book designer to choose font and other styling, and usually a PDF is created that is sent back to the writer for one last shot at any changes and corrections. Finally, the writer turns in final changes and the book is sent off electronically to the printer. At that point, there’s no turning back.

So far, so good. But what if the publisher decides to create and release an e-book version of the manuscript. The person who creates and formats the e-book cannot use the files created in the page layout program. They must use as a source the MS Word doc. But there’s a really good chance that all the changes and corrections made to the InDesign or Quark file were never made to the original Word file. So those errors and mistakes could make their way into the e-book.

Writers aren’t usually asked to proof the e-book. In fact, most writers don’t even bother to read the e-book releases. They assume it’s a mirror of the print version and have moved on to the next project right after the printed book is published.

Now, as Karen points out in her article, this is not always the source of errors. And some publishers treat the e-book with as much care and feeding as the print version. But because of time restraints and budgets, sometimes it’s not possible to go through the revision process again for the e-book. Still, it does make sense that this scenario is a possible cause for the number of errors seen in ebooks.

So the next time you’re reading your favorite author, and you come across a double word or an is for his or some other strange formatting mistake, don’t jump at the conclusion that it’s the author’s fault. It just might be the technology working against us.

Have you noticed more mistakes and errors in e-books than print? How about your own books? Have you ever gone back and checked the e-book to make sure known corrections were made?


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17 thoughts on “Mistakes and errors in e-books

  1. I’ve definitely noticed more errors — and these were in the professionally edited ones. In a Jim Butcher novel, there was a whole paragraph of complete gibberish. It looked like someone who had their fingers on the wrong key.

  2. Actually, I hadn’t noticed, but the explanation does seem like a reasonable explanation. Based on my experience, the technology for creating e-books is simply not where it should be yet.

  3. Excellent Post, Joe, as always.

    I have seen the errors.

    It’s one of the things that paralyzes me from posting my novel on Kindle.

    I catch them in print editions too on occasion, but, like the other poster’s noted, it’s not always the unedited Indie books on Kindle that I see it in.

    So, what’s an author to do?

    Did Karen offer any solutions?

    Those errors often throw me out of a story and make it easier to put it down.

  4. Joe, there are absolutely more errors. I just finished reading an e-book from a major publisher, no less, which contained errors all the way through, primarily of the
    wordsjammedtogetherforlinesonend type. From a reading standpoint, it’s similar to cruising along on an eight-lane highway at 80 m.p.h. and then hitting a one lane pinchpoint. It’s extremely distracting.

  5. Great post, Joe, and thanks for picking up the ball and continuing the errors in e-books discussion. I’d love to chime in throughout the day, but I’ll be on the road and away from my desk for the next four running my Backspace conference in New York.

    Before I head for the airport, I’d love to point folks toward this article from Sourcebooks: http://www.sourcebooks.com/next-publishing/1854-workflow-article-from-publishers-launch-conference-.html

    It’s a really thoughtful, considered piece from a publisher’s point of view that points up both the necessity for change and the challenges publishers face in adapting their workflow to the e-book situation.

    Some key points: the technology/software is there to produce near-perfect e-books, but it’s expensive. Staff need to be retrained, not only to use different software, but in how they think about books. (“The most challenging aspect of learning an automated tagging system is that your editorial staff will be required to think about what a chunk of text “is”—not what it should look like.” – isn’t that interesting?)

    I also like this quote: “A publisher is—and always has been—more than just a book printer.” So true! A book is a book, no matter the form.

    I think consumers have been extraordinarily forgiving of errors in e-books up to this point because the whole endeavor is so new. My 84-year-old mother was given a Kindle last Christmas, and she reads several books on it a week – mostly new books by bestsellers (thriller authors, as it happens). When she read my Huffington Post piece, her response was, “So THAT’S why there are so many mistakes.”

    I don’t think we’re going to be able to get away with that level of quality indefinitely. I also don’t think it should be up to traditionally published authors to have to proof the e-versions of their books in addition to the print version. (Smacks a little too much of authors taking on more of the publishers’ role for my taste.)

    Once all of this was brought to my attention, I actually bought an e-copy of my current novel to see if my final page proof changes were incorporated, and they were (hooray for Berkley!). But clearly, this isn’t the situation with all publishers.

    Those of us who are also self-publishing our backlist know it’s possible to turn out a quality e-book, and that it really does come down to proofing in the end.

  6. Joe, I definitely notice more errors in e-books than the print versions. It’s nice to know a bit about why this occurs.
    Thanks to you and to Karen for sharing.

  7. My experience seems different than most commenters so far. The errors I see in e-book format are on par with the errors I discover in print books, not more.

    The exception to that is the e-book formatting itself–I can definitely see where they are still working out the technology bugs on getting it to look just right on the viewer.

    It’s nice to know what the process is and understand how those errors could happen.

  8. As Karen points out, publishers could use a program to produce print and e-books from the same source file. The transition and training for such a production system is expensive and time-consuming, so it’s unlikely to happen quickly. Everyone is becoming used to reading half-baked stuff on the web these days, so I think people will become more forgiving of errors in e-books. For now, it would behoove a publisher to put a “digital review pass” of the Word doc into the production workflow before the e-book is created, to catch any errors. They should create a “change list” of any revisions that were made after the Word doc was converted for print, and make sure those changes are incorporated for the e-book version. And, it’s unforgivable if someone doesn’t give a final sign-off review of the completed e-book.

  9. YES – It drove me crazy to see all these errors when I began reading ebooks. Now, I try to gloss over them subconsciously, but it’s difficult.

    I thought it was just a self-pub issue till I noticed it in the bestsellers.

  10. I do see more errors in e-books, but even then I don’t blame the technology. I had an e-book professionally formatted, and I didn’t find an error in it when I proofed it. If major publishers are converting published novels to e-book and the e-books aren’t right, that’s an error in process on the part of the publisher. If the Word file will be used as the source doc for the e-book, then all changes must be made to it, as well as the whatever is used to create the printed version. That’s not a technology issue’ that’s process. Or carelessness.

  11. Thanks for all the comments. Obviously, most everyone is seeing the rash of typos and formatting issues. Just another sign that the ebook revolution is a work in progress. Special thanks to Karen Dionne for dropping by and expanding on the info.

  12. I work for a small publisher, and we create ebooks from the InDesign file. Errors still creep in, but they’re not the same errors we already edited out.

  13. “A publisher is—and always has been—more than just a book printer” brought to mind John Dunning’s The Bookman’s Wake.

  14. I have seen more errors too – and it is highly irritating, enough even to take me right out of the story. Let’s hope as publishers become more ebook savvy these errors will be avoided.

  15. The last Patterson novel I read (in paper) had so many typos that I quit counting after twenty. I’d heard this complaint about e-books and I assumed it was just that people weren’t used to the different format. You tend to notice flaws more in an unfamiliar format. I guess there was more to it.

  16. Joe– I just discovered (from a reader) that the e-book version of MythSam has errors that are not in the paperback. I hired an editor to fix the errors as we speak.

    Go figure. Same manuscript both times.

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